i recently discovered the work of charles ginnever while looking through the reviews section of a 1973 issue of artforum, which contained a smallish image of a sculpture, untitled from 1972. in the photograph, the angles made of wood, appear as a relatively simple pair of objects, yet the relationship of the lines, planes, angles, and material presence suggests a slow down, a feeling as if the piece was wrought from a series of complex decisions and calculations. i didn't know anything about ginnever before discovering this image, but he has a great website
, and fortunately for us untitled is a middle period piece of work, and he has continued to explore similar territory towards some beautiful structures that mine systems, permutations, and the language of minimalist form.
during the 70's, artforum's exhibition reviews tended to be a few short columns written by one writer reflecting upon 3 or four shows that he or she somehow felt were connected. ginnever's work is reviewed here with a show of helen frankenthaller's sculpture and work by another artist i'd never heard of, boris lover-lorski. the reviews were written by joseph masheck, who connects the exhibitions through their medium... sculpture. while he takes both frankenthaller and lover-lorski to task - although not for the same reasons - his description of ginnever's untitled work expands upon what one can see in the small black and white reproduction.
he begins by telling the reader that "untitled" was shown along with 2 other works of ginnever's and all 3 were displayed on hammarskjold plaza - a public space in ny, which meshack importantly points out had been used for demonstrations. he goes on to describe the work's formal qualities in depth:"a large construction consisting of two visually simple but geometrically complex angles - their legs meet at a corner angle which is itself angles in space - resting on their legs. this pair of angles is put together with massive, unfinished lumber, to which has been applied a cheerful, workmanly care that is noticeable in the crude yet serviceable joints and the practical yet honest patches fixing flaws in the timber. whether by design or by adjustment to the site, where the legs of the angles are chamfered to rest flat on the ground, they also fit exactly into the corners of the square parapet on which the piece is set, claiming the space as well as enhancing it. i like the feeling that the work is built to spec."
many things excite me about the image and masheck's description of it (especially the use of the word "chamfered"), because the image along with masheck's words, suggest ginnever's work is not exactly what it seems to be, and that it is wholly his own. but perhaps i should mention some of my own first impressions based on the image - before i had read meshack's review...
first off i imagined the scale as being somewhat smaller than "a large construction" thinking the ramps might be scaled to skateboard ramps and/or a small tent-like bus stop shelter. i saw them as architectural experiments (which formally of course they are), but more so towards people occupying their inside spaces, particularly in rain or snow. the wood stood out a great deal, as without any knowledge of the meticulous approach to angles and site, the materials felt wonky and temporary. the visibility of knotted wood suggested something other than the crisp minimalism of the time, and perhaps more human than machined. the angles of the wood edges that meet the ground suggests that the two objects are potentially two smaller revealed areas of a single larger work, connected physically beneath the ground as if forming the shape of an "M".
looking at the image, i kept thinking about a person on a bike or a skateboard moving in and out of both spaces in figure 8's. the odd ramp-like forms somehow suggested entrances and exits of corb's art building at harvard... and for some reason as much as corb is a stretch i can't stop thinking about kaprow, which seemed even more of a stretch - yet ginnever's wooden structure evokes for me some strange connection to kaprow's set for 18 happenings in 6 parts, which was also wrought from cheap wood; and like ginnever's sculpture, kaprow's set was all about the potential of how humans might move through it. for some reason every time i see this image i think of kaprow.
after i read meshack's review, i was interested in the fact that "untitled" was presented in a public space - and a space that had been used for demonstrations. of course, even from the photograph i figured "untitled" was purposely sited (or site specific), but now i see this is not only because of its form (which of course does confront the site with intentionality), but because of its potential "use" by humans - which brings the work's intentions closer to someone like serra (with tiled arc, twain, etc.)
taking my own impressions, along with meshack's writing, as well as what i was able to glean from ginnever's website, it makes sense that his public work could appear to be a stage or a set for activity, as ginnever's performance works of the 60's also fell under the rubric of "happenings", giving my kaprow association to "untitled" a little more intuited weight than a random perception.
on his website, you can see that ginnever's work from the mid-1980's forward combines conceptual sculpture (what i would call something that comes from ideas as opposed to formal concerns) and formal sculpture (obviously concerned mainly with form) into a space of pure perception (where seeing literally changes one's thinking, expanding one's mind simply through the experience of looking). these ideas would not be out of place in discussing an artist like turrell, but ginnever does these things through the careful manipulation of form, with repetition and permutations, and nothing else. his works are static in terms of actual motion, but long before the internet hijacked the word, ginnever's sculpture was filled with "virtual" motion. i am also interested in how his relationship to minimalism seems a conversation rather than a conversion, and more than anything his work continues to feel experimental.
in looking at the evolution of ginnever's work, i realized that while judd shed his early colored idiosyncratic forms in all their awkward unresolved beauty, ginnever still carries something of his earliest work with him. his recent large scale works are generally steel and generally "slick" but they still have a beautifully unresolved quality to their "design", and the work has continued to evolve - less with signature tropes, than continuing to expand the view.
Labels: charles ginnever, public art, ramps, sculpture, wood with knots